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I was playing cards with some friends. The game was based on points, which we could use for bidding, hence winning or losing them. The game seemed to go well, until I had the impression that the others were losing interest due to the low stakes of the game.

I wanted to offer raising the stakes, but at my first attempt I received a fairly negative feedback.

If you find that the game is getting dull, perhaps we could raise the stakes? How about we play for a dinner? The winner gets invited to a nice one.

The others perceived my suggestion as an attempt to earn more from the game, rather than an attempt to revive it. Note that I was rather losing when I proposed the change.

Given that I do not intend to propose a different game, or a variation of the existing one, how could I offer raising the stakes (e.g. betting a dinner, or singing a song, or even small sums of money where legal) without sounding too eager or greedy?


A very important clarification, the game in question has a fairly relevant skill component to it, i.e. think bridge, or being able to count cards at blackjack, or planning a correct strategy at doppelkopf. Chance of course helps too in that cards are being dealt randomly, but it is definitively not the only driver of winnings.

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    Do you normally play games with higher stakes with your friends? It's possible people are opposed entirely to the idea of out-of-game stakes for their games. (I know I am, most of the time) – Erik May 15 at 7:06
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    Yeah, but that's not really the same sort of thing. I don't see any particular similarity between gambling for out-of-game stakes and ski jumping/snow boarding/base jumping/(insert your stereotypical "very high adrenaline activity" here). Personally, I have some interest in adrenaline-rush activities, but gambling does absolutely nothing for me. – Dave Sherohman May 15 at 8:11
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    Are you sure that the issue was the stakes were too low? Could it be that they just didn't enjoy the game itself? Or maybe one person clearly going to win (or they were clearly going to lose), so they didn't see the point in playing further? – David K May 15 at 12:28
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    Also, your "clarification" doesn't really address @Erik's question. When I play cards or other games with friends, I would have no interest in raising the stakes as you suggested. When I play games, I play to have fun, and I don't want the outcome of the game to matter out-of-game. Are you sure your friends don't have a similar opinion? – David K May 15 at 12:29
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    Did you try just asking if people were losing interest and why? For example, if they were losing interest in playing card games in general, there's very little you could have done to raise interest in still playing card games, over some other activity. – Philbo May 15 at 15:56
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No matter what kind of game you play, any stakes higher than zero change the nature of the game.

If you play for virtual points, it's no more than a freetime activity. You can play to win, but your reward is no more than the knowledge that you won. You can play very casually as well with no true regards towards who wins. You can play for the sake of playing without any losses involved.

As soon as higher stakes get involved, there's a chance to lose as well as a chance to win. Just the possibility to lose something changes the game from a casual activity to a risk. Suddenly players are forced to invest much more energy and thought to minimize the risk.

From a psychological perspective, a risk to lose something is almost always perceived more negatively than no chance to win anything. In psychology this effect is called "risk aversion".

Risk aversion is the behavior of humans (especially consumers and investors), who, when exposed to uncertainty, attempt to lower that uncertainty. It is the hesitation of a person to agree to a situation with an unknown payoff rather than another situation with a more predictable payoff but possibly lower expected payoff.

Your players prefered the certainty of not winning anything to the risk of having to buy the winner a dinner.

A second aspect could have been that there can only be one winner, but several losers. For each individual person, the chances of being the winner were much lower than the chances of being one of the losers. Many people perceive losing something as much more negative than not gaining the same something. This effect is called "loss aversion".

loss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it is better to not lose $5 than to find $5.

If you want to revive the game and the people playing with you are the casual type who don't play for the thrill, you should increase positive incentives instead of introducing negative consequences.

Variants that do not include winning anything are:

  • Increasing the fun by introducing custom rules or giving players more chances to laugh.
  • Increase the impact of pure luck on the game (so everyone can win regardless of skill and concentration).
  • Play a different game that more people are interested in.

Variants that include higher stakes are:

  • Offering an imaterial reward like "The winner decides where we'll eat out next time or what film we'll watch next time".
  • Offering items from a predefined pool as wins (like small coins, sweets or drinks). Setting up this pool of wins is an initial loss (probably for you), but eliminates the risk of losing anything for the players.
  • Having the loser pay an imaterial price like the typical "truth or dare": the loser has to tell an embarrassing story or do something harmless but unpleasant.
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    Hey, I like what you are saying in your answer, however, I feel that the part where you are suggesting a course of action (the last paragraph) is very short. Could you expand on that, maybe add some phrasing suggestion and explain (with back-up) why those phrasings are good? – Ælis May 15 at 12:33
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    ehm, your last paragraph sounds a bit like "play a different game". – ooOOooK May 15 at 13:40
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    @ooOOooK Not nessecarily "play a different game", but rather "play this game in a different way so everyone has their expectations met". In this case the expectation clearly wasn't to play for any stakes. But if several players are bored with the current game, why not change to a different game? – Elmy May 15 at 13:52
  • @ooOOooK - As an example of how I read Elmy's suggestions of changing the game up, perhaps you're playing straight 5-card draw poker and people are getting bored. If you declare "deuces and one-eyed jacks are wild", you've "introduced custom rules" to change the game up, but you're still playing poker. Or you could switch to 5-card stud and, again, it's a bit different, but still poker. You can change the game without having to change to a completely different game. – Dave Sherohman May 16 at 7:20
  • @Elmy You say "But if several players are bored with the current game, why not change to a different game?" So in stead of adding punishment for the loser of the current game, why not change to a different game? – Hans Janssen May 16 at 7:28

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